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Where's the honour in the New Year's list?

AS an old-school republican I have no time for the honours system.

It's bizarrely archaic with titles which hark back to the 19th Century such as Commander of the British Empire or even deeper into history, like 'Sir'.

I believe thas t political power should come from the ballot box - not by accident of birth - so I have no wish to accept an award from someone who was literally born to rule over me.

In the extremely unlikely event that the Queen, or one of her successors, decides to offer me some trinket for services to journalism, I would decline the award.

Indeed, I'm so against the honours system that, when I speak to someone who has been recognised by the Queen, I try not to use their title.

On a few occasions I've interviewed men who no longer are simply known as Mr, such as former Kirklees Council leader Sir John Harman or the Tory peer Lord Jeffrey Archer. I wonder if either of them noticed that I didn't refer to them as "Sir John" or "Lord Archer" during our conversations. When I'm speaking to a man I don't know well, a simple Mr is enough. Why should I tug my forelock by calling someone "Lord this" or "Sir that"? The honours system is flawed in principle and practise. Frequently it is the wrong people who are recognised.

Once a civil servant reaches a certain level of seniority at Whitehall they are knighted, regardless of their competence. It's a perk of their job, like a parking space or an expense account. This undermines any idea that the honours system recognises excellence.

Then there are the politicians, unable to win an election who are made lords at the whim of the party leaders.

We have a prime example of this here in West Yorkshire. At the last General Election in 2005, Sayeeda Warsi ran for the Conservatives in Dewsbury, losing to Labour's Shahid Malik.

But two years after being rejected by the voters she was made a baroness, a title she will hold for life.

Think about that for a second. The woman who lost the election in Dewsbury five years ago can legislate over us for the rest of her life, while the man who defeated her could be out on his ear in a few months' time. How ludicrous is that? I'm not arguing that Mr Malik is wonderful and Baroness Warsi is awful. But I am pointing out that one of them - the commoner - is accountable to the voters while the other one isn't.

It's things like this which bring the whole system of titles into disrepute.

In some ways it's a pity that Britain doesn't have a proper system for honouring those who excel at their chosen role in life.

It would take a curmudgeonly sort to begrudge recognition of some sort to Huddersfield University's chancellor Patrick Stewart - now Sir Patrick to some though not to me - or to the many other people who have worked tirelessly for others with little thanks. But when I look down at the list of people from the Huddersfield area who have been honoured this New Year I am reminded why the honours system is rotten. For there among the names is Heidi Mottram, of Holmfirth, who has been made an Officer of the British Empire for her services to the rail industry in her role as managing director of Northern Rail.

Now, I've never met Mrs Mottram or had any direct dealings with her, but I have been on her trains. Her awful, awful trains. Those rickety 1980s vehicles which connect Huddersfield - after a fashion - to Manchester via Slawit and Marsden and to Sheffield by way of Honley and Denby Dale. Those trains, so ancient that the conductor has to open the doors manually at each station. Those trains, so poorly looked after they are frequently strewn with rubbish. The only good thing I can say about taking a Northern Rail train is that it gives you plenty of time to enjoy the beautiful Yorkshire countryside. There's no question of rushing past any of those nice hills. I've no reason to believe that Mrs Mottram is anything other than a decent human being who gets up every day and tries to do a good job.

But the fact remains that her trains are a running insult to the fare-paying public of Huddersfield. And yet, Mrs Mottram is to be honoured for her services to the rail industry.

Ask the punters on the 17.30 from Huddersfield to Manchester Victoria if she deserves her OBE. I think I know what the answer will be.

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GOOD LORD: Weston-Super-Mare folk should tug their forelocks now
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)
Date:Jan 6, 2010
Words:785
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